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Business owners and operators, government officials and representatives of local organizations gathered May 8 to discuss the future of the Lebanon Main Street program.
Last week’s meeting at the David R. Hourigan Building started that conversation, but questions remain about whether the local program will continue its affiliation with the Kentucky Main Street Program (through the Kentucky Heritage Council) and what it will look like if it does continue.
Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund opened the meeting by speaking about the importance of Main Street to the community and to economic development. He recalled that industry officials they were recruiting years ago told him they wanted to see the bathrooms at the high school and the downtown area.
“They could tell from those two things how much pride the community had in itself,” Lund said.
Years ago, the state program had funding to provide grants for renovation efforts, but that money has dried up due to budget cuts, according to Lund.
“That program is kind of sitting there in limbo,” he said.
Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw said he has met several times with Mary Lou Brock, the manager for the Lebanon Main Street Program. He said the city feels the program is important, and it is willing to invest in downtown to some degree.
Brock explained that even though much of the funding for the state program has gone away, the requirements to continue in the state program have increased.
The Lebanon Main Street Program is considered a certified program for at least a few more years. If local members want to continue as part of the state program beyond that, then they will have to have a Main Street Committee and four subcommittees that meet at least six times a year. Brock said those committees have to include six to eight members, and different people have to serve on the main committee and the subcommittees.
“You're talking about a lot of people and a lot of meetings,” she said.
Crenshaw added that it will take a lot of people and a lot of commitment to be part of the state program, but with no incentives, at least for the near future. He did say if funding did return to the state program, then the certified programs would likely be the first ones eligible for that funding.
Chamber President Adam Poff questioned if maintaining the affiliation with the state program was worth it if there was no incentive to continue.
“Why are we keeping score if there's no trophy?” he asked.
Patricia Krausman of the University of Kentucky Small Business Development Center served as the moderator for last week’s meeting. She said local stakeholders had to decide if they wanted to continue the Main Street Program and whether they wanted to change how it’s been done to meet the state requirements or go in another direction.
A majority of the estimated 25 people in attendance indicated they were in favor of having a local program. Arts, business, tourism and historical society representatives all spoke favorably about bringing people downtown, but there was also a question if the official “Main Street” area, which includes downtown Lebanon and Centre Square was excluding other businesses that might be interested in this effort.
“What do you want the new program to be?” Krausman asked.
That question was not resolved last week, but another meeting has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 20, on the third floor of the Hourigan Building.
Lund was optimistic that something good will come from the discussion that has been started.
“I’d like to see us create a program that other communities on Main Street will copy,” he said.